Wednesday, August 26, 2020

DOC delle Venezie at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit

DOC delle Venezie is an interesting consortium of three wine regions created specifically around one grape variety: Pinot Grigio. The DOC was established in 2017 in order to enhance, protect, and promote this grape within the Triveneto: Trentino, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia. The enhancement revolves around improving quality and focusing on microclimates -- which in some instances requires reducing cultivation in order to increase quality.  Protection is implemented through an Italian Government Seal which guarantees that the wine consists of 85% Pinot Grigio grown in the Triveneto region. And promotion includes various tasting events like one just presented at the Wine Media Conference Virtual Summit.

(Photo courtesy of the Italian Wine Central).

For this event participants, each received two different wines from DOC delle Venezie with Wine Journalist, Sommelier, and Italian Wine Girl Laura Donadoni providing an overview of the Pinot Grigio, Triveneto, microclimates, and the wines. First some basics. Pinot Grigio was a natural mutation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco that occurred over 2,000 years ago.  In order to grow to its full potential, the grape needs a cool climate (preferably within an average of 55-59 degrees F) and well-drained soils.  If the grape is planted in warmer regions then, in general, these wines lack texture and acids.

Pinot Grigio is widely planted in the Trivenetio because of its cool environment with large diurnal temperatures with the Alps acting as a barrier for disruptive weather but providing cool winds as does the Adriatic Sea on the east. Thus the average temperature in the DOC appellation falls between 57-59 degrees F where texture and acids develop naturally. Pinot Grigio wines represent 7 out of every 10 bottles produced in the DOC delle Venezie and come in three styles: Bianco, Frizzante, and Spumante.  The latter two are semi-sparkling and sparkling wines that are made using the Charmat method of pressurized tanks.

For the tasting, we received two wines that represent different character profiles of the Trivenetio. The Pietra di Pinot Grigio (Friuli Venezia Giulia) provided apple and lemons both on the nose and palate, with honeysuckle, some depth and minerals, and finishing with vibrant acids. A popular DOC delle Venezie profile. On the other hand, the Gemma di Luna Pinot Grigio provided white peaches and a more dominating stone fruit profile with more minerality, but with the same strong acidity. This wine is more typical for those made in Trentino near Lake Garda.  And a final positive for DOC delle Venezie Pinot Grigio is they generally run from $15-20. Cheers.

Disclosure: We received samples from DOC delle Venezie in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jura Savagnin & Vin Jaune

"During his studies in the 1860s, Pasteur identified that what he referred to as Mycoderma vini - known as the fleur ("flower") by the vignerons, now known as the microorganisms that create the voile or layer of yeast that settles on the surface of wine in barrels - was different from what was known as Mycoderma aceti or acetic (vinegar) bacteria. He even showed that you could seed the surface of the wine with Mycoderma vini to create the right bouquet - anticipating the use of the ensemencement process by almost a century. " -- Wink Lorch: Jura Wine: With Local Food and Travel Tips
Thus Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology and pasteurization process should also be known as the father of Vin Jaune - the intentionally oxidized wine produced in his native Jura, France.  Lorch continues quoting Jacques Levaux, the retired director of the Jura wine laboratory, "... apart from the rigorous analytical testing, little had changed either in the making or the understanding of Vin Jaune since the time of Pasteur in the mid-19th century".

To paraphrase Lorch, the production of Vin Jaune follows the practice of Spanish sherry where wine (from 100% Savagnin grapes - picked late in the season) are placed in a barrel and not moved or topped for up to six years. Naturally or inoculated, a layer of yeast called voile ("veil")  - and similar to Sherry's flor - forms and protects the wine from extreme oxidation and provides a nutty and rich profile. Since the wine in the barrel is never topped and some is lost to evaporation, it is compulsory to use a 62cl clavelin bottle.

DalGobboM - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0
Savagnin Blanc is especially suited to its indigenous home in the sub-alpine regions of eastern France. And more specifically, this ancient white wine grape is planted abundantly in eastern Jura, a wine region "sandwiched between Burgundy in the west and Switzerland in the east". DNA reveals that Savagnin is the same as Traminer and associated with the Germanic family of Traminer like Gewurztraminer.  But the DNA evidence also revealed that this ancient grape originated in Jura.

Jura's is a cool climate with warm, relatively dry summers and cold winters, and the majority of Jura's vines are planted on south-facing slopes -- to absorb as much of the sun's rays. A minority of vineyards are located in the more mountainous areas of eastern Jura, where heights can reach p to 4,500ft (1370m). However, the majority of vines are planted in the slightly lower-lying land in the west which average 1,000ft (305m).

Marine fossils
"It should come as no surprise that the key soil types here are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after Jura because the region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred between 145 million and 200 million years ago. The name of L'Etoile, the village which is home to one of Jura's most distinctive appellations, is said to be derived from the star-shaped marine fossils which characterize its limestone-rich soils (etoile is French for 'star'). Chablis and the upper Loire Valley are built on a similar geological structure". -- wine-searcher

Jura was once one of France's most prolific wine regions and dominated by red grape varieties. However, according to Lorch, "during the phylloxera crisis, from the peak of plantations in 1873 to 1900,  the vineyard area reduced in the Jura by 62% - compared to 27% on average for France as a whole". These vines had also been declining due to powdery mildew and then add in two World Wars -- and Jura wine production was basically broke at the beginning of the 1960s.

Courtesy of Domaine de Sainte Marie
Local, governmental, and individual (think Henri Maire) efforts contributed to the steady rebound in Jura wines that have benefitted local producers such as the Domaine de Sainte Marie.  This winery has a 14 hectare (35 acres) estate which is planted with 85% Savagnin. These grapes are used to make Vin Jaune but are also blended with others to produce AOC Cotes du Jura & L'Etoile wines as well as the Vin de Paille dessert wine. Like Savagnin, the family de Sainte Marie is an ancient one tracing their Norman ancestors to the 12 century and having resided in Jura for over 200 years. Today "..the growing estate is built around Bertrand de Sainte Marie, his son Gaëtan,  and oenologist Nicolas Cottier to create top-of-the-range wines, worthy of their appellations, made from traditional Jura grape varieties such as Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard and Trousseau".

Domaine de Sainte Marie participated in the Hopwine program and from the kit I received, it appears that the estate is well on their way to not only meet but exceed that goal. The 2017 L'Etoile Ensemblage is a textured and acidic blend of  Savagnin, Chardonnay, and Poulsard -- the later a red wine grown as a white wine. The 2012 Cotes du Jura Vin de Paille is made from Savagnin, Chardonnay, Poulsard, or Trousseau grapes that have been placed on loosely woven mats made of straw (paille) and dried out for several weeks (or even months). This process concentrates the sugars and flavors providing an auburn colored wine with intense sweet flavors and funk but lifted with refreshing acidity.  And finally, there's the 2010 Cotes du Jura Vin Jaune that is one of the highlights of the entire Hopwine shipment of 30 individual winery kits. It is aromatic, with a clean profile of nuts and honey with rising acids.  And excellent.

Domaine de Sainte Marie is looking for a U.S. importer and distributor so hopefully, their wines will be available in the near future.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Jacquère & Roussette (Altesse)

"On the evening of November 24th, 1248 a tremendous earthquake shook the region causing Mont Granier, the tallest mountain of the Chartreuse Massif, to disintegrate into huge boulders which came crashing down into the valley. Some of these boulders were the size of a house, and 16 villages were crushed and 5,000 lives lost. The church of the Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Myans, however, was spared, though gigantic boulders were stopped abruptly at the very door of the church. Some of these boulders can still be seen around the church grounds" The shrine has been a pilgrimage center since at least the thirteenth century, and its small ‘Black Virgin’ was an object of the devotion of Saint Francis de Sales. -- Our Lady of Myans, Savoy, France
Courtesy of
In the 1980s and only 2 kilometers from this church, Philippe Ravier took over his family's small estate in the Combe de Savoie. He slowly expanded it to the 35 hectares of today with ample plantings of two grapes popular in the Savoy wine region: Altesse & Jacquère. His son Sylvain joined him in 2008 and together they formed Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier. Some of the multiple vineyard sites they farm were created from the Mount Granier landslide such as those near Apremont and Abymes with their soils composed of ancient glacial moraines and marlstone and those in Lac Saint André / Les Marches at the base of Mount Granier.

Further to the northwest, Domaine Gérald Dubreuil resides in the village of Poncin, halfway between Lyon and Geneva, and within the Vin du Bugey wine region.  The family estate has been cultivated for multiple generations and consists of south-facing vines planting in clay-limestone soils.

Within a larger scope, Savoie and Bugey are wine regions in eastern France, in the mountainous areas just south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and the border with Switzerland. While not technically connected under French wine law, Bugey and Savoie are often grouped together since they are close both geographically and produce similar wine styles.  They are very cool climates so most of their wines are white led by Jacquère, Roussette (Altesse), Bergeron (Roussanne), Marsanne, and Chardonnay.  For reds look for Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Mondeuse.  The two main appellations within the regions are Vin de Bugey and Vin de Savoie with numerous Crus and sub-appellations that may appear on labels.  (

Jacquère [jah-kehr] is mostly grown within the crus of the Vin de Savoie appellation -- specifically in the villages of Apremont and Abymes within the shadows of Mont Granier.  Wines from the Jacquère grape are noted for their high acidity, low alcohol, sometimes herbaceous, but clean minerality. We received a Hopwine kit from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier that included the AOP Vin de Savoie Les Abymes 2019. This wine showed many of these characteristics with its lively citrus profile with racy minerality and lasting acidity. An impressionable wine.

Roussette is the local synonym for Altesse and is considered indigenous to the southern shores of Lake Geneva.  The grape is a late ripener and is usually harvested with a reddish tinge on the berries take which provides Altesse with the synonym, Roussette ("reddish" in French).  When grown in the Roussette de Savoie and Roussette du Bugey appellations the grape is known for producing full-bodied, concentrated wines with floral, nutty characters and good acidity.  The Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier AOP Roussette de Savoie Altesse 2019 is pure elegance with nutty pear flavors and considerable depth before finishing with subtle but lasting acidity.  The Domaine Gérald Dubreuil Roussette du Bugey 2017 provides similar depth and acidity but with more citrus - particularly lingering lemons.  Both show the elegance that Roussette produces in both appellations.  Santé.

Distribution: Wines from Domaine Philippe & Sylvain Ravier are available in Oregon, California, New York, and Massachusetts; whereas Domaine Gérald Dubreuil is looking for a U.S. distributor.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Little Spain and Croatia in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Over twenty years ago, John Delmare and his family planted the first vines on the historic Rappahannock County property they had purchased called Glenway Farm. This site in the Blue Ridge Mountains has been farmed since 1804 and is well suited for grapes with its high elevation (900' and 1200'); southeast aspect, with 10% grade; and rocky soil comprised of shale, limestone, and clay.  They initially planted a variety of varieties from vinifera to hybrids - one such French hybrid being Vidal Blanc. This grape is a cross between the Vitis vinifera Ugni blanc and another hybrid variety, Rayon d'Or, and is intended to be winter-hardy with high sugar levels with moderate to high acidity.

Rappahannock Cellars released their first vintage of wines in 2000 and since that date, they have held back a portion of their Vidal Blanc in each successive year.  They take that Vidal and siphon it into five-gallon glass casks and place on the winery's roof where it ages in the sun for 10 months. The direct sunlight and heat oxidize the wine which, when optimal, produces characters of cooked or dried fruit, nuttiness, and yeast. These casks are brought inside and aged over the winter and then back-blended with the previous vintages in their version of a Spanish Solara system. Each year the Solara gets older with a portion bottled for release - which they appropriately label Solera ($34).

This wine is dry yet very complex - similar to a Spanish Oloroso sherry with nuttiness and yeastiness immediately apparent. Since the wine is naturally oxidized it can remain corked for a few months so is appropriate for sipping or in cocktails - one is mixing with grape brandy from the winery's sister distillery Dida's Distillery.

The distillery honors the Delmare's great-grandfather Paul Mariani as Dida translates to Grandfather in Croatia and it was their Dida who immigrated to California and introduced the family to agriculture. Distiller Allan Delmare further commemorates their heritage by producing the Dida's Vintners Choice Immature Brandy ($40), a grape brandy in the tradition of the Croatian fruit brandies - rakija.  In rare instances, you can find oak-aged rakija and in Hungary, the best home-made palinka's are those with a little oak seasoning.   The Dida's has even more seasoning using 100% in new American charred oak barrels which smooth the rouge edges without overwhelming the fruit. I found my local rakija source.  Zivjeli!!.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Colli di Rimini Rebola (Pignoletto, Grechetto di Todi)

The northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna emanates history.  In ancient times it was populated by Thessalians, Etruscans, Celts, and Umbrians -- all before the Romans ascended to power. It contains the Rubicon River which  Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC, setting the stage for the Ides of March drama. The port city of Ravenna became the capital of the Western Holy Roman Empire in AD 402 and is where King Theodoric the Great established the capital for the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. In the Middle Ages, the province changed ownership between various competing principalities and kingdoms, but the University of Bologna remained a constant source of higher education. It is the oldest university in Europe having been established in AD 1088. And more consequential to our focus, Emilia-Romagna has always been considered one of the richest regions of Italy in regards to wine-making tradition.
Emilia-Romagna is a rich, fertile region of northern Italy, and one of the country's most prolific wine regions – more than 136,000 acres (55,000ha) were under vine in 2010. At 150 miles (240km) wide, it spans almost the entire width of the northern Italian peninsula, sandwiched between Tuscany to the south, Lombardy and Veneto to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Nine miles of Liguria is all that separates Emilia-Romagna from the Ligurian Sea, and uniqueness as the only Italian region with both an east and a west coast. (
Vines were first introduced to the region by the Etruscans and widely adopted by the Romans. Most interestingly, the grape varieties planted in previous centuries were of the Vitis labrusca species rather than the Vitis vinifera. For example, Emilia-Romagna's famous Lambrusco varieties are derived from the Vitis labrusca species.  Today, there are 20 or so DOC titles, and one of these, Colli di Rimini, is located south of Ravenna bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and by the Apennines Mountains to the west.

Courtesy of
The Colli di Rimini DOC was created in November 1996 and a 2009 re-classification favored a shift to varietal wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Rebola the featured grapes. If a wine is made from at least 85% of either one, the name of that variety is included as part of the DOC title on labels: Colli di Rimini Cabernet Sauvignon and Colli di Rimini Rebola. DNA evidence that Rebola is the name given to Pignoletto (the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOC) which is also the same as Umbria's Grechetto di Todi.

The first written documentation of Rebola dates to 1378 and refers to it as "Ruibola" or "Greco" and according to "Rebola is a fruity and velvety wine, easy to pair with food and able to feature complex perfumes and tastes when aged in wooden barrels or casks".

One Colli di Rimini producer that we recently sampled through the Hopwine program is Vini San Valentino. Their organically grown vines are situated a few kilometers from the Adriatic on the hills of Rimini.  These coastal vineyards receive evening breezes to cool the grapes after a day of abundant sunshine. The Mascarin family has owned the property since 1990 and has concentrated on Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Rebola. Two Rebola wines were included in our Hopwine kit and these wines impressed with their richness and structure. The 2019 Colli di Rimini Scabi Rebola is extremely complex - floral with various tropical and stone fruit notes that combine with its depth and refreshing acids to leave a lasting impression. The 2018 Colli di Rimini Rebola ViVi is even more impressionable. Named after the owner's late wife Valeria Vivian, this wine flows seamlessly through a current of creamy peaches with textured layers of acidity.   I'd cross the Rubicon for this wine.

Update:  Vini San Valentino wines are available in Maryland and Michigan and will be soon available in NY, NJ, Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island.

Saints: Apollinaris of RavennaSt. Marcian of Ravenna

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Historical Significance at New Market Plains Vineyards, Maryland

In 1793 the town of New Market was founded by Nicholas Hall Sr. and William Plummer as a rest and trade stop along the Baltimore Turnpike wagon trail. The two gentlemen understood the commercial value of the turnpike and turned a half-mile section of the trail into New Market’s Main Street. In twenty years the town had grown into an important trade center for wagoners and other travelers and included "a button factory, nail factory, wheelwright shops, blacksmith shops, tanneries, dry gods, grocery stores, inns, taverns, livery stables, wagon stands, " and most importantly -- distilleries. In 1818:
..the Baltimore Turnpike became the eastern section of the National Turnpike, one of the most famous and well-traveled highways in America. The Town of New Market became an integral part of the western trade route and the multitudes who opened America’s new frontiers passed through the center of town. The first stagecoaches carrying mail traveled Main Street. Over the road came heavy freight and Conestoga wagons loaded with grain, whiskey, tobacco, lumber, iron, furs, and other products. Passenger coaches and fancy buggies stopped at the hotels, inns, and taverns. Herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs were driven through to market. Peddlers came with carts and many traveled on foot carrying all they owned on their backs. (Town of New Market)
Eventually, the railroad and the automobile would reduce the trade and rest stop significance of New Market -- but not its historical significance. And on December 6, 1975, the Town of New Market was placed on the National Register of Historical Places and under the supervision of the Department of the Interior.

At the same time, Susan Wilson, a direct descendent of Nicholas Hall Sr., was raised on the family dairy farm -- the same farm that lost a slice of land in 1792 in order to develop the town.  "Many of the old outbuildings remain intact or restored, including a stone dairy/ice house, log smokehouse with a slate roof, log chicken house, log wagon shed and stable, frame general store/tenant house, early 1900's bank barn, and a tile dairy barn (now the winery) built-in 1941" (New Market Plains Vineyards).

When she and her husband Howard inherited the property they drained their 401K accounts and planted Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Muscat Blanc, Petit Verdot, and Syrah vines in 2012.  Their first harvest occurred two years later and the estate was christened New Market Plains Vineyards.

Recently we were able to enjoy the fruits of this original harvest in the 2014 Rich Forest Chardonnay ($20).  This wine is made in the Burgundian style starting with barrel fermenting and finishing in oak. This wine shows why the winery is becoming state renowned for its Chardonnay as it is balanced between oak and juice with creamy lemons and fresh acids. Our group also finished a bottle of the 2015 Windy Day White ($23), a blend of Muscat Blanc and Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel.  The strong floral aroma is readily evident followed by tropical and citrus characters with the fresh acids alleviating the slight 0.7% sugar. We are looking forward to our next visit. Cheers.